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Triumphant return of sprinting in Kent

Nigel Devereux
April 6, 2020
 
Riders awaiting their turn.


On August 15-16, sprinting returned to east Kent, as Ramsgate reverberated to the sound of racing.

Words: Alan Turner Photography: Alan Turner & Carol Green

Government Acre is a large flat grass area at the top of the Western Cliff at Ramsgate, at the eastern end of Kent.

Used occasionally as a venue for classic vehicle events, it provides a commanding view of the Undercliff, the esplanade road that was one of the country’s top sprint venues in the 1950s and 60s.

Many of the most famous names in straight line sport, and often some from other disciplines, could be seen keeping the throttle pinned while aiming the bike between cliffside and seashore.

By the 70s, sprints were held at less-daunting locations and the Undercliff became an access road for traffic to Port Ramsgate.

Attending the classic events, Tim Hart looked down from the clifftop and its reminder of past glories.

With the ferry terminal seldom used, he approached the local authorities to see if it was possible to run an event on the Undercliff that might re-capture the spirit of those sprint events, which coincided with the times when Ramsgate was a busy seaside resort.

Having got the green light, it took more than a year to get everything organised.

Tim’s learning curve was steep but, as progress was made, the project gathered support.

Phil Spain proved to be a staunch right-hand man and the Invicta and East Kent Classic Motorcycle Clubs were among other clubs and organisations that also provided help.

Guest of honour Jim Redman flags away Bill Mace on a 1921 Sunbeam Sprint to start the sprint revival.

When the combined efforts came to fruition in mid-August, it all formed an impressive show on Government Acre.

Local dealers had come on board with trade stands and Messhams Wall of Death proved a popular attraction. T

here was a funfair and a stage for live music, successfully spreading the Revival appeal beyond the two-wheel fraternity.

Jim Redman was guest of honour and he gave a talk at one of the Ramsgate pubs on the preceding Friday evening.

The course for the revival’s demonstration sprint was shorter than the original quarter-mile, when much of it was a blind curve around the foot of the cliffs.

Nigel Mace gets off the line on his 1924 Sunbeam TT Model 9.

The years have also seen a remarkable proliferation of street furniture, all of which had to be protected with tyres and straw bales.

With a measure of tolerance, the entry was period-correct and had attracted quite a few bikes that had been ridden at Ramsgate as well as riders who were also reacquainting themselves with the place.

While sprints are more usually held on wide-open aerodromes, witnessed by a handful of spectators, Ramsgate offered the equivalent of an enormous grandstand to accommodate everyone who wondered what it was all about.

There were hundreds of onlookers lining every vantage point on the cliff-face steps and footpaths. With a nice touch of authenticity, as a demonstration the bikes did not have to conform to noise regulations.

As the first rider out, William Mace was enthusiastically flagged away by Jim Redman.

William was riding a Sunbeam, appropriately a Sprint model of 1921 vintage, the oldest bike in the event, but still used in competition.

Many of the varied entry that soon followed had interesting histories.

Sheelagh Neal was piloting the Scott outfit on which she once rode passenger to Ramsgate regular, her father, Ossie.

Unfortunately, gearbox problems soon sidelined the bike so Sheelagh reverted to the family’s Triumph Tiger 70. Chris Illman was out with the 1927 Bayley-Cole Douglas.

The bike was regularly entered at Ramsgate and in the hands of various eminent riders it was very successful, apparently holding some records in perpetuity.

Another former winning machine was Roger Pailes’ bike, but that was when an AJS 7R engine lived where a Triumph twin currently resides.

Many years before, Derek Dunk had claimed a class win on his Norton 99 Dominator and never thought he would be returning to Ramsgate, this time on a Norton 650SS.

Another with Ramsgate history was Yellow Peril, the bike with the striking proboscis fairing created and raced by Bill Bragg.

Some hurried remedial work in the paddock enabled the bike to run with Dave Woodard earning enormous applause, even though he was obliged to make his return on the breakdown truck.

Other famous Ramsgate bikes included Methamon, the Maurice Brierley Vincent sidecar outfit and, ‘Thor’, the former Francis Williams 1000cc Norton-JAP ridden by Ernie Woods, both on static display in the paddock.

Three sprint sessions were programmed for both days of the meeting.

After making their runs, the bikes were escorted back to the paddock area, greeted with spontaneous applause. In turn, this was acknowledged by the riders and by the end of the second day’s sessions, this became a ritual with the volume of applause apparently varying with the entertainment value of the just-witnessed run.

The original Ramsgate Sprint was organised by the Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club, but as the club is no longer involved in competition the Vintage MCC Sprint Section provided the necessary expertise for the demonstration.

However, the Sunbeam club was still keen to be involved. Club chairman, Baz Staple, took part with a Velocette KSS, a 1928 model that was only a little older than its rider.

Julie Diplock and Richard Bailey shared a Rudge and a Sunbeam Model 9. On Government Acre, the club’s marquee attracted a lot of interest.

Near-perfect weather helped make the Revival a spectacular success. At 1pm on Sunday the focus was on the Undercliff.

All the sprint bikes were lined up, facing out to sea, exhausts towards the cliff, and the engines were revved up in an aural celebration. Ramsgate was emphatically back!

Read more News and Features at www.classicmotorcyle.co.uk and in the May 2020 issue of The Classic Motorcycle – on sale now!

 

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